A State Department official called for a “strong” U.S. response to Russian hacking of Democratic Party organizations on Thursday and urged the administration to name names and clearly convey that manipulating U.S. elections won’t go unpunished.
“There needs to be a thoughtful, principled, strong response,” said Kathleen Kavalec, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. She said the U.S. response must send a “clear message” and “assign responsibility,” in addition to making clear that “we won’t tolerate future intrusions.”
Until last week, the Obama administration had avoided directly accusing the Russian government of a wave of cyber attacks against the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election.
But on October 7, the Director of National Intelligence and the head of the Department of Homeland Security said Russia’s hacking and disclosure of Democratic party information was “intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”
“We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” read the U.S. statement.
Outside analysts have outlined a range of possible U.S. cyber responses while maintaining that it should be proportional — that is, not destroying the Russian electricity grid. On Wednesday, Jim Stavridis, the former NATO supreme allied commander and an FP contributor, called for the U.S. to expose the names of high-level officials who had a role in the attacks, similarly to Kavalec’s suggestion.
Stavridis also said the U.S. should consider undermining Moscow’s “reliance on a wide variety of cyber-tools to censor the web within its own country by exposing them to the public.” Beyond that, he floated the idea of using U.S. cyber capabilities to “expose the overseas banking accounts and financial resources of high-level Russian government officials,” including Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin has called the U.S. allegations about hacking “nonsense,” and on Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the United States of fanning “unprecedented anti-Russian hysteria.”
The hacks have raised concerns about the integrity of the U.S. voting process, but U.S. intelligence officials said there is no evidence that Moscow has manipulated America’s voting recording systems.
Still, former U.S. officials have said a strong punitive response to Moscow now is important as it could serve as a deterrent against future Russian meddling both in the United States and in Europe.
“It’s important to recognize that just like in the U.S. electoral process, Russia will be looking at European elections that are just over the horizon,” Jeffrey Rathke, a former State Department official and senior fellow at CSIS, told Foreign Policy.
He pointed to a number of particularly significant upcoming elections, including Dutch elections in March, the French presidential elections in April and May, and German Bundestag elections in October or November.
“It’s important for the United States and other countries that could be subjected to the same activity to stand together now and to make clear that they will not leave these kinds of attempts at subversion unanswered,” he said.